story by: angela brandt
photos by: nikki carlson
page design by: stacy mantle
Edna Coleman was curled up on a wooden bench covered with a pillow feeling ill on Wednesday afternoon when a neighborhood woman dropped off homemade apple crisp. Coleman said everyone on the Hi-Line has been wonderful to her and her 1-year-old son, Na'Sean, since they relocated to Havre from Mississippi three weeks ago.
”I don't even know what Big Sandy is, but they gave me a big basket with soaps, lotions, face masks, everything,“ Coleman said. ”And when I say everything- I mean everything.“
Coleman said pretty much the whole town of Gildford has bent over backward for her and threw her a mother-baby shower, which was where she received the gift basket. The Gildford Colony gave her and Na'Sean fresh produce and knit slippers, blankets and rugs.
The Colemans have a Gildford connection in their host family, the Vaanderings, whom they visited over the weekend. Coleman said her son was so excited during First Baptist Church's service in Gildford on Sunday that he ran up to the front and then jumped into a woman's lap and continued singing. She said the woman wasn't bothered at all and had fun with it.
Melissa and Rose Richardson, who also relocated from the South three weeks ago, have also received a warm welcome. The two families were aided by Hope on the Hi-Line, a group formed to help hurricane victims relocate to the area.
Both families lost their housing and cars to Hurricane Katrina. A wall of the Richardsons' apartment was missing after Katrina hit. They had to leave their damaged car when they took the train to Montana. The Colemans' apartment in Montana. The Colemans' apartment in Pascagoula, Miss., flooded with waist-high water and the roof over the bedroom caved in. Edna Coleman found her car three blocks away from where she had left it. Both families now have housing, but neither has a vehicle.
A generous man contacted the Richardsons and is sending them a check to help them out. Melissa Richardson said she's not sure how much the check will be for, but that it's from a man who used to live in Texas and now lives in Lewistown.
The Richardsons have been living in a fully stocked apartment supplied by the Chinook Alliance Church. The church will pay their rent and energy bill until March 15, when church members will reassess the situation. The mother and daughter recently received a donated vacuum and have a washer and dryer donation that they just need to pick up.
Coleman said she is very happy with her rent-free apartment in family housing at Montana State University-Northern. Na'Sean loves to play with the other children who live there. She is impressed with the views from her window, especially that of the baseball field. Coleman said she saw snow fall from her window, but was later told by locals that the snow didn't really count because it didn't accumulate. She said she has all the proper clothing and is anxious to play in the snow with her son.
Melissa Richardson has been working full time as a clerk at Tom and Nancy's Food Farm in Chinook since last week. Her daughter has been attending Chinook High School for the same amount of time. Rose Richardson is on the school's Snow Ball committee and helped with the sophomore float that won first place at the Sugarbeet Festival. She plays percussion in the school band and will possibly captain a new all-girl drum line the band director is trying to start. Rose Richardson's previous high school had about 1,500 students and 63 band members. Chinook High School has 127 students and about a dozen in the band.
Rose Richardson said even though the school is smaller, she has more friends in Chinook.
”She has friends for days,“ Melissa Richardson said. ”They fight over who gets to pick her up first.“
The 16-year-old said the boys are much better up here compared to those in Louisiana. She said the boys are smarter and taller, which is good because she is 6 foot 2 inches tall. Rose Richardson said Chinook also has fewer bad influences than her hometown of Good Hope, La.
Na'Sean Coleman arrived in Havre with an ear infection, which he recovered from after treatment at Northern Montana Hospital. Edna Coleman said she has been sick on and off since she's been here and suspects her son must have a better immune system because he seems to be adjusting better. She said she thinks her illness is caused from a combination of the toxins she was exposed to after Katrina and the climate and temperature changes. Coleman said her son has been wonderful with her while she's been ill.
”As I am laying down, he will pat my back and kiss my forehead,“ she said, pausing to cough.
She said she is looking forward to recovering and getting a job. Coleman hopes to attend MSU-Northern in January, but has been too ill to pursue it.
She said she has everything she needs thanks to all the donations they've received. Also, her brother, a football player for Northern, makes sure she's spoiled.
”Everyone is so friendly. I can't help but adapt,“ Coleman said. ”I love it here.“
All of the attention since her arrival on the Hi-Line can be overwhelming, Rose Richardson said.
Melissa Richardson said she is going to cut out and frame all of the clips from the media coverage of their relocation and make a ”wall of us.“
”That way we can remember when we were celebrities,“ she added.